John Stuart Mill; His Life and Works

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It may be said, if Mr. Mill has not become the founder of a new philosophical school at the universities where must we seek the result of his influence? I cannot give any thing like a complete reply to this question now; but any one who has observed the marked change which has come over the mode of thought in the universities in the last few years will be able to form some idea of the kind of influence which has been exercised by Mr. Mill. Speaking generally, he has obtained a very wide acceptance of the utilitarian doctrines: they were presented by Bentham in a form so harsh and unattractive as to produce an almost repelling effect. Mr. Mill, on the contrary, showed that the utilitarian philosophy might inspire the most active benevolence and the most generous enthusiasm. This acceptance of utilitarianism has produced a very striking effect in modifying the political opinions prevalent in the universities. For many years what has been known as the liberalism of young Oxford and Cambridge is in many respects fundamentally different from what is known as liberalism outside the universities. The liberalism of the universities, as well as that of the Manchester school, are both popularly described as advanced but between the two there is in many essentials the widest possible divergence. What is known as Philosophical Radicalism will long bear the impression of Mr. Mill's teaching.

It should be particularly remembered, that, avowing himself a liberal, he never forgot that it is the essence of true liberalism to be tolerant of opinions from which one differs, and to appreciate the advantages of branches of learning to which one has not devoted special attention. It is somewhat rare to find that those who profess themselves undoubted liberals are prepared to accept a consistent application of their principles. There is almost sure to be some region of inquiry which they regard as so dangerous that they regret that any one should enter upon it. Sometimes it is said that freedom of thought, though admirable in politics, is mischievous in theology: some, advancing what they believe to be one step further, express a general approbation of freedom of thought, but stigmatize free-thinkers. Again, it may be not infrequently observed that devotion to some particular study makes men illiberal to other branches of knowledge. Metaphysicians and physiologists who have never taken the trouble to master mathematical principles dogmatically denounce the influence of mathematics. Eminent classics and mathematicians have too frequently sneered at each other's studies. No one was ever more free from this kind of bigotry than Mr. Mill, and it probably constitutes one of the main causes of his influence. Some years ago I happened to be conversing at Cambridge with three men who were respectively of great eminence in mathematics, classics, and physiology. We were discussing the inaugural address which Mr. Mill had just delivered as rector of the St. Andrew's University. The mathematician said, that he had never seen the advantages to be derived from the study of mathematics so justly and so forcibly described; the same remark was made by the classic about classics, and by the physiologist about natural science. No more fitting homage can probably be offered to the memory of one to whom so many of us are bound by the strongest ties of gratitude and affection, than if, profiting by his example, we endeavor to remember, that above all things he was just to his opponents, that he appreciated opinions from which he differed, and that one of his highest claims to our admiration was his general sympathy with all branches of knowledge.




Every one must be familiar with the often expressed opinion, that, as a practical politician, Mr. Mill's career was essentially a failure. It has been said a thousand times that the principal result of his brief representation of Westminster was to furnish an additional proof, if one were wanted, that a philosopher is totally incapable of exercising any useful influence in the direction of practical politics. It is proposed briefly to examine this opinion, though it may, indeed, with truth be urged that the present time is not calculated to make the examination an impartial one. The inquiry involves an almost constant reference, either expressed or implied, to Mr. Mill's personal character and influence, and it is hardly possible for those who are mourning him as a friend to speak of these dispassionately. It is perhaps hardly necessary at such a time as this to ask the indulgence of the reader if this unworthy tribute to the memory of a great man is colored by personal reverence and gratitude.

When, it is said that Mr. Mill failed as a practical politician, there are two questions to be asked: "Who says he has failed?" And "What is it said that he failed in?" Now, it seems that the persons who are loudest in the assertion of his failure are precisely those to whom the reforms advocated by Mr. Mill in his writings are distasteful. They are those who pronounce all schemes of electoral reform embodying the principle of proportional representation to be the result of a conspiracy of fools and rogues; they are those who sneer at the "fanciful rights of women;" they are those who think our present land tenure eminently calculated to make the rich contented, and keep the poor in their proper places; they are those who believe that republicans and atheists ought to be treated like vermin, and exterminated accordingly; they are those who think that all must be well with England if her imports and exports are increasing, and that we are justified in repudiating our foreign engagements, if to maintain them would have an injurious effect upon trade. The assertion of failure coming from such persons does not mean that Mr. Mill failed to promote the practical success of those objects the advocacy of which forms the chief feature of his political writings. It is rather a measure of his success in promoting these objects, and of the disgust with which his success is regarded by those who are opposed to his political ideas. It was known, or ought to have been known, by every one who supported Mr. Mill's candidature in 1865, that he was a powerful advocate of proportional representation, and that he attributed the very greatest importance to the political, industrial, and social emancipation of women; he advocated years ago, in his "Political Economy," the scheme of land tenure reform with which his name is now practically associated; his essay "On Liberty" left no doubt as to his opinions upon the value of maintaining freedom of thought and speech, his article entitled "A Few Words on Non-intervention" might have warned the partisans of the Manchester school that he had no sympathy with their views on foreign policy. There is little doubt that the majority of Mr. Mill's supporters in 1865 did not know what his political opinions were, and that they voted for him simply on his reputation as a great thinker. A large number, however, probably supported him, knowing in a general way the views advocated in his writings, but thinking that he would probably be like many other politicians, and not allow his practice to be in the least degree influenced by his theories. Just as radical heirs apparent are said to lay aside all inconvenient revolutionary opinions when they come to the throne, it was believed that Mr. Mill in Parliament would be an entirely different person from Mr. Mill in his study. It was one thing to write an essay in favor of proportional representation it was another thing to assist in the insertion of the principle of proportional representation in the Reform Bill, and to form a school of practical politicians who took care to insure the adoption of this principle in the school board elections. It was one thing to advocate theoretically the claims of women to representation it was another to introduce the subject into the House of Commons, to promote an active political organization in its favor, and thus to convert it, from a philosophical dream, into a question of pressing and practical importance. It was one thing to advocate freedom of thought and discussion in all political and religious questions it was another to speak respectfully of Mr. Odger, and to send Mr. Bradlaugh a contribution toward the expenses of his candidature for Northampton. The discovery that Mr. Mill's chief objects in Parliament were the same as his chief objects out of Parliament branded him at once as an unpractical man: and his success in promoting these objects constituted his "failure" as a politician. His fearless disregard of unpopularity, as manifested in his prosecution, in conjunction with Mr. P.A. Taylor, of Ex-Governor Eyre, was another proof that he was entirely unlike the people who call themselves "practical politicians." His persistency in conducting this prosecution was one of the main causes of his defeat at the election of 1868.

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